Larne was at the end of the line. The railway ran south towards Whitehead before heading through Carrickfergus on its way to Belfast. At the end of the line, it may have been, but it was on the line, which opened up possibilities unavailable in towns without a station.
In the late-1990s, the railway provided the opportunity for two retired men to make a journey one of them had not imagined to be possible. One had lost his wife the previous winter and had become depressed.
“Why don’t we go to Killarney for a couple of nights?” asked his friend.
”Don’t be silly,” said the bereaved man, “how could I afford that?”
”How much do you think it would cost?”
”I don’t know – hundreds.”
”We can do it for £30 each. We can take sandwiches and buy food in supermarkets. It would cost us about £15 each a night for bed and breakfast.”
“What about travelling? It’s a long way.”
”It’s free,” said his friend.
Indeed it was. The government in Dublin not only provided free travel for its own senior citizens, it also covered the cost of tickets for seniors who travelled into the Republic from Northern Ireland.
I envied the men their journey. The diesel multiple unit would have rattled along the shore of Larne Louth before reaching the towns along the south coast of Antrim. At Belfast Central, they would have changed for the Enterprise service to Dublin. New rolling stock had been introduced and the one hundred mile journey was a pleasant experience. On reaching Dublin, there would have been a bus trip from Connolly to Heuston stations, a trip along the River Liffey. At Heuston, the Tralee-bound train would have taken them to Killarney. It would have been a place apart from the town from which they had come, there would have been a feeling of being very far from Northern Ireland of the Troubles.
It was the journey that seemed most attractive. The idea of journeying from the north-east to the south-west of Ireland along hundreds of miles of railway conjured thoughts of passing trains and picturesque stations and hours of rural Irish countryside.
Trains offer views unseen from a car window. Lines pass through landscapes in cuttings and hollows, but also on embankments and viaducts. The views from the carriage window are expansive, sometimes unexpected. The sight of a train still retains the capacity to draw attention, to be a moment of interest.
A passing locomotive rolling London-ward on a February night might contain retired men heading to a distant destination.